Fears for the future of rural schools

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The future of village schools in rural Northumberland is being put at risk should Northumberland County Council remove school transport to schools chosen for reasons of religion or belief.

That’s the view of Lib Dem campaigner Julie Pörksen as the consultation on faith based school transport nears its June 10 conclusion.

Mrs Pörksen said: “Over many years communities have worked hard to keep their small village schools open across rural Northumberland and any reduction in pupil numbers which could arise from removing faith based transport would really put the long term viability of these rural schools at risk.”

At its policy board meeting today, the Labour-led council is expected to approve proposals to introduce charges for post-16 students to save £2.4 million a year.

It means students attending college in Newcastle or Ashington will have to pay the full transport costs, while pupils from outlying areas about to enter sixth form will have to pay £600 to use the same school bus they have previously boarded for free.

“It is very disappointing that the current Labour council seem unable to understand the needs of rural Northumberland and appear willing to make cuts that will cause hardship for rural families and communities,” said Mrs Pörksen.

The council says its current approach to school transport is no longer sustainable and alternative options to reduce costs needed to be considered.

The number of students claiming free transport has increased from 800 to 3,500 over the past five years and costs to the council have increased to £3.3 million per year.

The consultation on faith based school transport can be filled in at www.northumberland.gov.uk

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